A Dodo at Oxford
The unreliable account of a student and his pet dodo
In 2008 a diary was discovered amongst some books donated to a charity bookshop in Oxford. It was a most remarkable book, supposedly written over three hundred years ago by a student, describing his life and unusual pet, a dodo.
Everyone knows the dodo, a comic and ungainly bird, the sad symbol of extinction. But what was a living dodo really like? The author of the diary was a student of science and he recorded his pet's every move, as well as the reactions of his friends and acquaintances. He had some idea of the bird's rarity, but not that his pet might have been the last dodo to have walked upon the earth.
Doubts have been cast over the authenticity of the diary, so every page has been photographed and reprinted to enable readers to judge for themselves. As the publisher cannot guarantee that it is genuine, they have reluctantly placed the diary within the 'Historical Fiction' book subject category, until more information is known.
The editors, Philip Atkins and Michael Johnson, have included notes on the diary entries, on such topics as astrology, book production, doll's houses, and gout. Many items were found stuffed between the diary pages, including a bookmark, cigarette cards, and a 1973 fishmonger's receipt, and these are all illustrated.
As well as providing a portrait of the famous bird and glimpses of seventeenth-century Oxford, this is the history of a book: how it was printed, made, unmade, torn, stained, scribbled over, and forgotten. Now by strange good fortune both book and bird have come back to us, large as life.